Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Usings Part 3: Bettors and Abettors

As the trial of George Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin has entered its final stage, any number of developments have surfaced to cast peculiar shadows on the controversy itself, on the general attitude toward justice, and on the contemporary American psyche.

It seems clear at this point that were justice the point of the affair, Zimmerman would be acquitted. Indeed, the presiding judge should have dismissed the charges with prejudice, in the interests of justice. The prosecution's case has been a complete disaster, a hodgepodge of self-contradicting witnesses and witless speculation about "profiling." With the testimony of the eyewitness and the forensic experts, all suggestions that Zimmerman was the aggressor have disappeared from the realm of plausibility. Moreover, all this testimony, all this evidence, was available well before Zimmerman was indicted. It's become indisputable that the case was brought out of "political pressure:" that is, to quench various black mouthpieces and placate the rabble they roused.

Various persons in middle and high positions in Florida politics bet that the indictment and trial would pour oil on Florida's racially troubled waters. But as the multitude of "Kill Zimmerman" Facebook rants and similar outpourings of hatred have revealed, the very persons the trial was supposed to mollify are ready to touch a match to that oil.

They should have known better. Accusing a clearly innocent man of a heinous crime to please a troublesome interest group could only have one result: to whet the appetite of that group, and the "spokesmen" who stood to profit most greatly from their bellowings, for much larger incitements: possibly even a bloody riot.

The politicians and officials who acceded to the demands for a trial of Zimmerman constitute an interest group of their own. Like most of us, they prefer tranquility to public unrest; no doubt they believed the trial would serve as a means toward that end. Having only just expressed myself on that subject, I trust that my Gentle Readers will allow me to pass on from it without further comment.

What's less obvious and ultimately more important is the existence of a substantial community of persons outside both the political class and the "roused rabble" who probably believe the very same thing -- who might even be hoping that Zimmerman is convicted, against the evidence, so that their lives and comforts won't be disturbed by rioting and violence. Many of them probably think themselves good persons for wishing so. After all, they tell themselves, "we only want what's best for everybody."

Daniel Greenfield opined thus:

To understand the Zimmerman case, you have to live in a neighborhood that has just enough property values to keep you paying the mortgage and just enough proximity to dangerous territories to make you feel like you're living on the frontier.

The chain of events doesn't make much sense to the elites, which is one reason why they assume that the explanation must be racism There weren't a lot of New Yorker readers cheering as Charles Bronson's Paul Kersey stalked the subways and parks of the city blowing away hoods. The perfect target audience for the Death Wish movies or for Goetz saying "You don't look too bad, here's another" was that bottom half of the middle class that didn't have enough money to leave the city and didn't have enough liberalism to accept the violence as their just due.

True enough, as far as it goes. But it misses a key point: some of the persons wishing for Zimmerman to be convicted are conservatives.

Back at Eternity Road, I wrote:

Quite a lot of conservatives -- even a few hard-core libertarians -- are squeamish about the right to keep and bear arms. One very bright fellow of your Curmudgeon's acquaintance opined that "rudeness ought not to incur the death penalty," implying that he would expect a wave of homicide in the streets were the tradition of bearing firearms in public to be renewed. Another wanted to know what would become of peaceful public places such as supermarkets and movie theaters, should the hips of citizens be decorated with weapons once more. Granted that cell phone users can be very annoying, he said, surely they deserve no more than a broken arm, at worst....

The politically engaged tend to be among America's better off. Conservatives in particular often feel they have a lot to defend. In the main, they've worked hard for what they have, and justifiably feel that they deserve it and deserve to keep it. If our typical conservative, Smith, senses some sort of threat to his position and holdings, from where would it emanate, and what form would it take?

Most violence and crime against property takes place in a relatively small sector of the country: the heavily populated urban areas and their nearest, densest suburbs. Smith is highly unlikely to live in such a locale, preferring the greater safety and gentility of the outer suburbs or rural America. Therefore, he's unlikely to be too often aware of his vulnerability to personal attack. Nor will he think of his home as a probable target for plunderers.

However, Smith hears the stories, as do we all. He hears about the plagues of gunfire and gang warfare on the evening news; he simply can't get away from them and remain reasonably well informed. So the "threat" posed by firearms, which the Old Media have promoted ceaselessly since 1965, will appear linked to forces which, were they to impinge upon his life, would have the aspect of an invading army, albeit one that wears no uniforms and flies no banners.

Given this sense of a potential but distant threat, Smith would prefer to see it kept at bay by "professionals": the police and armed forces. Economically, it makes more sense to him; a citizen militia would cut too deeply into his time and the walk-in trade at his place of business. Besides, defending the borders is what government is for, isn't it?

Another economic vantage arises from the comparative theory of wealth: that Smith regards himself as wealthy only because he has more than most others. If those others are poised at his gates, and might just be contemplating the redistribution of his wealth, he'd rather wrap himself around his property than take up arms to repel them. It will be infinitely easier for "the authorities" to protect him and his if no one else is permitted a firearm; it will make their targets easier to spot.

As unpleasant a perspective as this might seem, I stand by it: I've met even more self-styled conservatives who feel that way since the quoted essay was posted (3/21/2005). From that vantage, George Zimmerman, a working class fellow from a working-class neighborhood, had no right to carry a weapon, much less to use it -- even if the sole alternative was a crippling or lethal beating by an urban thug who'd forfeited by his own actions any shred of a right to life.

In another essay, I wrote:

Near the conclusion of his book The Bell Curve, sociologist Charles Murray notes that "conservatism" means different things in different lands. In Latin America, we find conservatives among the landed gentry and the industrialists -- but the ideals they hold are a far cry from those of American conservatives. Their wealth and power arises, in the main, from political connection and favoritism. Their whole aim is to conserve their perquisites against invasion by los peones. Murray uses the hacienda on the hill, walled and guarded by armed retainers, as the perfect pictorialization of Latin conservatives' preferred end state -- obviously a far cry from American conservatives' freedom-oriented constitutionalism.

At least, it should be a far cry from the attitudes of American conservatives. But a fair number, including some popular commentators, appear to have adopted the "hacienda perspective." These deplore any development that might spur los peones into charging up the hill. Justice is an entirely secondary consideration.

At this point, it begins to seem likely that blood will be spilled over this. Zimmerman cannot justly be convicted of second-degree murder, with which the indictment charges him. But the six-person jury might well feel that it must convict him of something, "for the good of society." They might even rationalize that it would be for Zimmerman's protection. Yet a manslaughter conviction would hardly satisfy the mobs that are already forming...the mobs the Florida authorities are begging to "raise your voice, not your hand."

If there's a ray of sunshine to the affair, it would be that Floridians are very well armed. Any mobs that think to run rampant, in the fashion of the "flash mobs" of black teenagers that have terrorized several major cities, will have to deal with that. They might find it a less pleasant experience than their predecessors enjoyed among the largely disarmed populations of Philadelphia and Chicago.


lelnet said...

"Various persons in middle and high positions in Florida politics bet that the indictment and trial would pour oil on Florida's racially troubled waters."

I doubt that. I suspect, rather, that they merely hoped that by subjecting Zimmerman to the criminal justice system, they could assure that _when_ the rioting and the lynchings happen, they themselves would escape the mob's blame.

George Zimmerman, unless he manages to flee the United States to some locale where he can effectively conceal his identity forevermore, _immediately_ after he's acquitted, is a dead man walking, no question. That this is unjust is is true.

I fear for the safety of the jurors. And the judge. And his lawyer. And anyone who testifies for him. And anyone who knows him.

Anonymous said...

DOJ helped facilitate anti-Zimmerman protests in Florida: FOIA docs

"The legal watchdog Judicial Watch announced today that it has obtained documents revealing the Community Relations Service (CRS), a unit of the Department of Justice, was deployed to Sanford, Fla., following the death of Trayvon Martin to help organize rallies against George Zimmerman."